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I noticed recently that some of the search features on corporate websites and intranets seem to have implemented some of the search algorithms that are commonly associated with Facebook Graph Search or Google's SEO ranked search results.

This is commonly seen when a user enters a very specific keyword but the exact matching results are not returned or not ranked highly on the search results, whereas a partially matching result will be ranked highly.

My suspicion is that with many organizations creating social networks and doing extensive analytics on internal traffic have the tendency to implement the types of search algorithms that place more weight on criteria such as recency and number of existing page views when returning search results. Unfortunately this has also created the side-effect of exact matching keywords (e.g. document names and other exact search phrases) not returning at the top of the search result.

This is despite the fact that many of these search features allow a user to filter results by things like document type and other meta data, which should allow a more specific or targeted results returned.

Has anyone else experienced this during their research and have you found the cause for this? Other research or examples from end users would also be helpful.

  • Do you have any research to backup this being a problem? It seems to me that the odds of a user knowing the exact keywords to produce a correct search is extremely low. My gut says this is more a bias produced by the system designer or content developer not empathizing with the actual end user's abilities. – Bryce Howitson Nov 25 '19 at 16:41
  • Well, I don't think any company will want to make public the fact that their intranet search doesn't work very well. Anecdotally, most places I have worked at seem to have a very out-of-date way of managing their intranet. The example I have of people wanting to find a specific document (e.g. policy document that gets updated periodically) using the exact title of the document (i.e. filename) and for it not to return at the top of the list is a very common story. – Michael Lai Nov 26 '19 at 0:20
  • Sure that specific example makes sense but as you say most intranet systems are out of date. I'd guess that it might not be a failure of the search but instead nobody ever gave the search an index of file names or directories (at least in an example like you provided). I know a bit about search algorithms and what you're describing seems like it falls outside the tech – Bryce Howitson Nov 26 '19 at 0:23
  • Yes, most places that I have worked at... which is not to say that it is a significant sample size, but then again I have never usually heard anyone say how great their intranet search feature is :p – Michael Lai Nov 26 '19 at 0:32
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Experienced this several times. Especially when I want to research a less generic term or word. I think the reason is most times the algorithms are designed to predict what it determines is relevant to the user (based on existing pages, recent search results, etc) rather than matching keywords or giving results with exact words in it.

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    It seems rather strange to have to predict what a user wants and prioritize it over exact matching keywords, or at least not to provide an alternative way of searching the data repository if this is a frequent use case. – Michael Lai Nov 18 '19 at 22:11

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